By Michael Smith in HCMC
I was joking the other day that I only use my brain 10% of the time - only for the most important things. In Saigon that would mean I’d have to reserve my day’s quota of brain power to survive the mayhem on the roads on my motorbike. There’s no end to the miasma of bizarre driving acts that happen out there, but I’ve tried to jot down a few of the common ones that test my reflexes and emotions.
The Vertical Merge: This is my favorite, but it horrified me when I first caught a xe om in Saigon. Instead of waiting for a gap to turn left (and lets face it – there aren’t any gaps) you just head straight at the swathe of oncoming traffic, veering slightly for the center line.
The Moving Gap: This is a roundabout maneuver that I can do slowly with some aplomb, but I have seen some maniacs and a few straight-backed Vespa- Zen girls do it at top speed without even blinking. Roundabouts present streams of traffic going at different angles, some at right angles to ourselves. To get through you have to judge the moving gap precisely. Most riders take it easy, but when you see someone do it at top speed, it’s quite impressive.
The Shepherd: Turning left at traffic lights when the oncoming motorbikes are 20 thick and 200 deep, somebody has to lead the way across. This takes some courage or stupidity as you must trust that the motorist heading at you knows that you’re coming. As soon as the leader breaks the stream of traffic, motorbikes follow in his shadow and he shepherds them across.
The “Daddy Doesn’t Know Where his Little Girl is”: The young truant with a tight fitting cowboy shirt embroidered with a skull on the back has his teenage girlfriend in red denim shorts clinging tightly around his waist, with her head on his shoulder screaming joyfully in his ear. He does the “Saigon Racer Wobble” to signal to everybody that he is going to throw himself recklessly into the wrong lane to pass.
The “I Guess You Think This is my Fault”: It normally happens near service stations on busy roads. After filling up their motorbikes people can’t be bothered doing the “Vertical Merge” so they just head up the wrong side of the road beside the curb. That’s all fine until you surprise them by coming round the next corner doing the “Blind Right” and run headfirst into them.
The Blind Right: Turning right in Saigon is a breeze, you don’t have to look. Just turn right, go as wide as you like and it’s up to anyone who is coming, to go around you.
The Double Squeeze: You are riding along ready for almost anything, but a pushcart slowly comes out on your right, pushing you towards the center line. At the same time a masked woman scooterist heads blindly out of a street on the left narrowing the gap in the center of the road like a closing elevator door.
Those are just a few but remember - with Saigon traffic the key is never to take your life or limbs for granted. It’s a jungle on the roads, and if you know the moves you can avoid an accident. It’s a type of meditation with a mantra made from swear words – totally in the moment. It brings you closer to God.
Saturday, November 27, 2010
Here is a great article in the Saigon Times by Michael Smith that sums up Saigon Traffic in a nutshell.